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Townsend: Scots can become Lions

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'I'm a big believer in our players, that they can get on that Lions tour'

Gregor Townsend is backing his Scotland players to gain greater representation on the 2021 Lions tour to South Africa, but he added he doesn’t expect to travel himself as a coaching assistant after refusing a role in 2017. 

Following Warren Gatland’s unveiling last week as Lions boss for the third consecutive tour, a massive debate on Scotland’s relationship with the Lions concept in the Gatland era was ignited on social media following a hugely engaged RugbyPass analysis feature.

The question of Scotland’s declining Lions representation has now been addressed by Townsend in a BBC Sport Scotland interview, the Scottish coach insisting his players will be up for the fight for places on the plane to South Africa in two years’ time. 

“The northern hemisphere teams have been playing excellent rugby, the teams from Britain and Ireland especially,” Townsend said.

“I think you’ve got the teams ranked second, third, fourth and seventh in the world that form the British and Irish Lions. That would never have happened before. Competition for places is stronger than it’s ever been and that makes it a challenge for us as Scots.

“We haven’t won Grand Slams like the other teams over the last few years but I’m a big believer in our players, that they can get on that Lions tour. World Cup, Six Nations and beyond, if they’re playing well in those tournaments they’ve got a good chance of going.”

Townsend, alongside fellow Scottish players Alan Tait, Rob Wainwright and Tom Smith, was pivotal in guiding the Lions to a 2-1 series win over then world champions South Africa in 1997.

However, the number of Scots involved in Lions Test action since then had been diluted and the drawn 2017 series in New Zealand was the first for over a century to feature no players from Scotland. Only two Scots – Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour – made the initial 41-man tour squad, with Greig Laidlaw called up before departure.

That lack of selection wasn’t helped by Townsend’s turning down a role in the Gatland set-up, a decision he feels will have a repercussion for him regarding 2021’s trip.

“I’m sure I won’t get the offer this time after turning it down last time,” suggested Townsend. “The Lions has been a big part of my rugby career.

“I managed to go on a tour and it was the ultimate achievement I had in my career. We as coaches and players think very highly of the Lions. Anybody would love to be involved in that.”

WATCH: Former Scotland international Jim Hamilton heads to South Africa in the third episode of Rugby Explorer, the RugbyPass series 

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'I'm a big believer in our players, that they can get on that Lions tour'